Friday, July 30, 2010


In 1929, just before the crash, reporter Regis Toomey is trying to interview hotshot stock speculator Sidney Blackmer who isn't being very cooperative; Toomey ends up putting words in his mouth, such as "Financial doom is just around the corner… the wolves are gathering for the kill… who's left holding the bag? John W. Public!" (Sound familiar, 21st century viewers?) Blackmer says he can use the fake quotes if he calls a coin toss correctly, and Toomey does. Days later, the crash hits. Soon, two men approach Blackmer, wanting to use him as a front to snatch businesses which are in trouble, putting them into receivership under the respected Blackmer, while the silent partners make money from the deals. (I understood almost none of this scheme, but what's important is that Blackmer, like the two men, is getting rich on the misfortunes of others.) The first business to get this treatment is the Excelsior Hotel; the owner commits suicide by jumping out a window, and his daughter (Martha Sleeper) vows to go after those responsible. She and Toomey work together, and soon she's got a job as Blackmer's secretary and finds evidence that Blackmer's scheme is crooked. What ultimately does Blackmer in, however, isn't so much love of money as love of woman; he has an affair with the wife of the nephew of one of his cohorts, leading to a climax involving a jealous husband with a gun.

This Poverty Row melodrama is notable for a couple of reasons. One is Blackmer's character; though he's the chief villain, he's also got some depth to him, and for much of the film, he is the most sympathetic character on screen (Toomey and Sleeper are too cardboard for much audience identification). He doesn't seem to be truly bad or even particularly greedy; many of his actions are determined by his coin-tossing ritual. Blackmer plays him in a carefully measured fashion, as a mild-mannered but confident man, and we can see the charms he has that even Toomey and Sleeper fall for. The other point of interest is the writing; though the financial plot is convoluted, the dialogue is strong and you can see the writers are reaching for some kind of political or philosophical ideas underneath the melodrama plot. It's not totally successful, but for sub-B film, it's different and worth a look. [DVD]

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